Can you do any of the following:
- Pay a mortgage or rent?
- Rear a child?
- Own, run and drive a car?
- Choose, book and go on holiday?
- Go shopping, buy clothes, meet new people and converse?
If so, you are probably “an adult”. When you are an adult, you can do all sorts of things without someone telling you how to do it. You manage an entire life, with predictable and unpredictable events, and somehow you manage.
Until you get into work….
Do you work in a job where what you have to do and even what comes out of your mouth has been written by somebody else? Congratulations! You can put your brain on hold for 8 hours a day whilst someone else takes over. There are lots of jobs where your side of the conversation with a customer has been decided in advance.
This is pure distilled command and control lunacy, and it is everywhere.
Ring a call centre and speak to a person, say his name is “Roger”. Roger won’t be speaking to you, instead a script will be speaking to you, being read out by Roger, but written by a group of people many miles away from Roger and at some point in the distant past. They have never heard your name, they don’t know your problem or your particular context, but they will be speaking, as if from the grave, through the mouth of poor Roger.
His words will appear on a screen to speak out, when you reply he will click on the screen in front of him to tell the computer your reply so it can tell him the next words to come from his mouth. The whole of the conversation goes like this, pre-scripted from the grave of common sense.
When Roger goes home of an evening, somehow he manages to survive and deal with the multiple complexities of life, acting and speaking on the hoof. But back in work, his brain takes a back seat as he speaks someone else words and they make his decisions for him.
Roger gets little from this arrangement. Few people could engage with work pre-decided for you, no autonomy or mastery can be pursued.
And, it doesn’t work. Handily there’s a law that says why it doesn’t work: Ashby’s law! You can quote this at people who think it makes sense to write scripts.
I’m not going to go too much into it, it’s dull enough when written down. Here it is:
“only variety can destroy variety”
There. Got it?
Variety? Like “Britain’s Got Talent”? No!
What it means is that a system (Roger in the call centre) can probably only respond effectively to the variety of challenges presented to it (you, ringing up the call centre) if it has at least as many ways of responding to it (the pre-scripted conversations) as will be presented to it (all the problems that every customer ringing the call centre will have).
Can you spot the error? I’ll repeat it. The call-centre managers are keen thinkers, they build a system to be able to deal with the variety of human demands coming into the call centre. They then give this to a human to speak.
A bit slower now. They take the human being out of the human , replace it with pre-scripted and pre-decided words, to deal with another human.
The answer laboriously spelled out, for any keen minded call centre managers who may be reading this: You already had a method for dealing with the huge variety of human shaped problems. You employ them. Use them instead. Train them, support them, give them systems that they can work in that helps them help the customer achieve their purpose.
It’s not a pipe-dream, plenty of places do it. Here is just one.